Reinvent Yourself on a Shoestring

How three women took big career leaps with small budgets.

By Marci Alboher
Photograph: Photo by: iStockphoto

Yet one year into the venture, Polacek and Scheier were feeling the financial squeeze. Looking for part-time gigs to earn some cash, Polacek found one at Vanguard in a program that trains and employs professionals to work with the company’s clients. She loves the five-hour-a-day job, her colleagues — many of them midlife women — and the opportunity to pick up the financial skills she needs for her business. Still, the couple has decided, reluctantly, to borrow a bit against their house.

Product designers are now creating a prototype for Polacek’s as-yet-unnamed device. She hopes to bring it to market later this year. Retire in 2013? She’s having too much fun.

No-Net Takeaway

  1. Look right in your neighborhood for start-up support.
  2. Network everywhere, including the locker room.
  3. Never underestimate the hot-flash sisterhood.

Leaper of Love

Barbara Saunders, 41, San Francisco

Job then: Recruiter for a consulting firm. Salary: $65,000.

Job now: Program coordinator, holistic veterinary clinic; writer. Income: $75,000.

Scariest moment: Taking a transition job in her new field that felt like a step down.

If there’s a holy grail for shoestring reinventors, it’s the part-time job that pays benefits. Saunders landed one in 2005, when her firm began retooling and wanted to hire a lot of people quickly. Knowing there would be no better time to strike a deal, she asked for a three-day schedule that would allow her to keep her benefits. Her boss agreed.

With two days a week free, she went after what she most wanted: time to write and a way to turn her volunteer work with animals into a paid position. Soon she was landing commercial writing jobs that paid well and could be done on a flexible schedule. Also, she had once worked as a personal trainer, and now she found a few clients.

In the meantime, she became a regular presence at the local SPCA office, walking dogs, writing for the SPCA magazine and assisting in treating animals, all the while letting everyone know that she was seeking a staff position.

A year later Saunders left her job at the consulting firm, and shortly after that the position of public information coordinator for the SPCA opened up. Saunders got it. It was a decent transition job, but with less money, prestige, and authority than her old work. Still, it brought her into contact with the wider animal-welfare world. Last September, she heard of a job she liked much better, managing a holistic veterinary program at Pets Unlimited, a nonprofit hospital and shelter. She was hired.

The new position pays $10,000 less than her recruiting job, but she earns $20,000 writing. She’s already mulling over the next stage of her dream: moving to the country, opening an animal sanctuary, and writing more. She’s sure she can make it happen.

No-Net Takeaway

  1. Use timing to your advantage.
  2. It’s okay to take one step back, then two steps forward.
  3. Call on all your skills to produce tide-me-over income.

Marci Alboher writes the "Shifting Careers" column and blog for the New York Times.

Originally published in MORE magazine, June 2008.

Share Your Thoughts!


Post new comment

Click to add a comment